PUYALLUP, Wash. — Susan Powell had been missing for a month-and-a-half when Jennifer Graves – the sister of Susan’s husband, Josh Powell – made an offer the police never expected.
Susan had vanished on a cold night in December 2009, and nobody had seen her since. The police hadn’t found her body, a murder weapon, or any clear proof of what had happened to her. Still, even if they couldn’t prove it, they were convinced of two things: Susan was dead, and her husband, Josh, had killed her.
They weren’t the only ones who believed it. In January of 2010, Josh’s own sister contacted the West Valley City Police and told them she was every bit as convinced her brother was behind it as they were.
She wanted to do something about it. She believed that if she could get Josh alone, she could get him to confess – and she was willing to wear a wire while she did it.
It’s a little-known chapter of the story of the disappearance of Susan Powell: Jennifer Graves secretly recorded herself confronting Josh about his role in Susan’s death and begged him for a confession, all while deputies monitored the audio nearby in case Graves got into trouble.
You can hear the actual audio from that conversation in episode 8 of Cold.
Josh Powell’s strange behavior
Jennifer had reason to be suspicious. She’d been there, at the Powells’ home, on the day Susan went missing.
She was the family’s emergency contact, and when Susan didn’t turn up to drop her kids off at the daycare on Dec. 7th, 2009, Jennifer rushed to their home. She waited there, outside the locked door of the house on Sarah Circle in West Valley City, calling Susan’s friends and family in the hopes that someone knew where she was.
She was even there with the police when Josh rolled up to the driveway, his two kids in the back seat and his wife nowhere to be found.
Josh told the police that he’d taken his children on an impromptu camping trip at midnight, out in the West Desert, on one of the coldest nights in December.
It was a strange alibi, but what disturbed Jennifer even more was her brother’s attitude. Jennifer would later say: “He doesn’t appear to be distressed at all about his wife.”
His behavior, in the days to come, would only get stranger. The next morning, Josh would ask his sister to help him clean laundry around the house, including washing the red stains out a pile of rags that the police had found in his bathtub the day before.
At the time, Jennifer agreed. And, as a result, what might have been a vital piece of evidence was destroyed before the police were able to get a warrant to confiscate it.
That decision plagued her, especially as Josh’s behavior grew more and more suspicious. The next day, he picked up a rental car and drove it for 800 miles, taking a mysterious trip police have yet to fully understand. Then, 12 days after his wife vanished, Josh left the state altogether.
By then, it was well-known that Josh was the lead suspect in the case. Still, a group of volunteers helped him pack his things and send him off, even though Josh grinned at one them and told her with a laugh: “I put Susan’s head in the trunk.”
Jennifer was fed up.
“Why are you all covering up for him?” she demanded. “Why aren’t you just pushing him to tell what he knows?”
Jennifer Graves’s secret recording
Jennifer Graves confronted Josh during a family gathering in Washington. She waited until she had him alone, then tried to pry the truth out of him, never letting on that she was secretly recording every word he said.
She asked him about the 800 miles he clocked on a rental car, about the arguments he and Susan had before she vanished, and about his whereabouts on the day his wife vanished.
There’s no confession on the tape. Even talking to his sister, Josh was careful with his words, telling her: “My attorney told me: just don’t talk about it. Don’t talk about specifics.”
Hearing the actual audio, with Jennifer and Josh’s voices, however, brings the conversation to a whole new level. Jennifer’s frustration is undeniable, building until she blurts out: “You need to confess now and get it over with!”
“She did a phenomenal job, in my opinion,” Det. Ellis Maxwell told Cawley. “She probably felt like she didn’t do enough… But at the end of the day, she knows that there was nobody who was going to break Josh. Nobody.”
In the latest episode of Cold, you’ll hear the actual audio for yourself, from the moment Jennifer steps into the home to the moment when her fight with Josh breaks out into an all-out argument across the whole family, screaming at each other in the front yard.
And you’ll even hear the aftermath from the car ride home, when Jennifer broke down to her husband, crying: “My God. He killed her.”
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